"White lightning," of course, is another term for moonshine whiskey, the basis for this tale of backwoods intrigue and action. Reynolds is Gator, a bootlegger enlisted by the Treasury Department (or what Granny Clampett used to call "revenooers") to nab the corrupt (what else?) and bigoted Sheriff Connors, played by Ned Beatty, who had co-starred with Reynolds in Deliverance. Connors has his own moonshine business operating on the side. The lawman was also responsible for the death of Gator's brother, and that provides his real motive for working with the Feds. With the help of a souped-up car, another bootlegger (Bo Hopkins), and a sexy girlfriend (Jennifer Billingsley), Gator gets the goods on the sheriff. But not before engaging in the major delight and raison d'etre of movies of this type the uproarious antics of stunt drivers on dirt roads and through the swamps of the film's Arkansas location shoot.
Reynolds revived the character in the sequel Gator (1976), his first feature film directing project, which had TV talk show host Mike Douglas in the role of an ambitious state governor and Lauren Hutton as the love interest. Hopkins co-starred with Reynolds again in The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973), but future "redneck" romps most often featured singer-turned-actor Jerry Reed in the sidekick role. Beatty also appeared with Reynolds again, in W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings but never again portrayed the corrupt sheriff thrown for a loop by Reynolds' lovable misfit. That role was most memorably taken by Jackie Gleason as Sheriff Buford T. Pusser in Smokey and the Bandit and Smokey and the Bandit II (1980). This was Billingsley's only outing with Reynolds; the "girl" role was taken over later by his off-screen love interest at the time, Oscar winner Sally Field.
White Lightning also features an early film appearance by Dianne Ladd, just prior to her roles in Chinatown (1974) and as the sharp-tongued Flo in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974). And look for a little girl making her film debut Laura Dern, daughter of Ladd and actor Bruce Dern.
Director: Joseph Sargent
Producers: Arthur Gardner, Jules Levy
Screenplay: William H. Norton
Cinematography: Edward Rosson
Editing: George J. Nicholson
Music: Charles Bernstein
Cast: Burt Reynolds (Gator McKlusky), Ned Beatty (Sheriff Connors), Bo Hopkins (Roy Boone), Jennifer Billingsley (Lou), Diane Ladd (Maggie), Matt Clark (Dude Watson), Louise Latham (Martha Culpepper), R.G. Armstrong (Big Bear).
C-102m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Rob Nixon